Despite its wariness of reporters, China rolls out carpet for US network

Although China has expelled three foreign correspondents since July last year, it plans this month to allow a United States television network to broadcast from the ramparts of the Great Wall and the heart of the Forbidden City. Through its state-run TV network, China has cooperated with NBC to an unusual degree in preparing for the week-long, $6.4 million extravaganza - the largest news production ever by a foreign network in the country.

Since June, China Central Television (CCTV) has helped NBC arrange most of the 330 hours of filming and interviews nationwide. The government has been so solicitous toward NBC because the project is a unique opportunity to ``introduce to the American people all aspects of China's current reforms,'' says Guo Boaxiang, CCTV's international director.

Such cooperation belies recent unease between Peking and foreign journalists. In the past 14 months, China has ousted correspondents for Agence-France Presse; Kyodo, the Japanese news service; and the New York Times. The Times correspondent was charged with espionage; the other two allegedly went ``beyond the limit of normal news coverage.''

Ron Steinman, senior producer for the Today Show, said NBC has had virtually no limits to its news gathering. ``We've been able to go just about anywhere we've wanted to and we've been able to put on tape and interview people in just about every circumstance,'' he said.

Jim Abrams, president of the Peking Correspondents' Club, said in one word why he believes China has opened its door so wide for NBC: ``Money.''

NBC plans to broadcast 22 hours of news and feature items on China from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2. While the network could choose to broadcast pieces sensitive to Chinese officials, its features on personalities and daily life would counterbalance the last December's heavy coverage of student demonstrations here.

Some Peking-based journalists and other observers say the government knows that broadcasters filming in China for just a few weeks are less likely to highlight the troubles here, than are colleagues who have long-term postings.

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said, ``Part of the problem in the past with American audiences looking at China is that they've been kind of romanced by the images here and what we hope to do is give an accurate picture of what is going on.''

NBC journalists declined to discuss in detail controversial features on the legal system, human rights, state-backed birth control, and China's occupation of Tibet.

But in an unintentional tribute to the possible balance of the report on Tibet, a Chinese official at state-run TV Tibet said in a telex to a correspondent of another network that NBC has ``made many mistakes about Tibet and Tibetan people.''

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